Like its American counterpart, Brazilian music is a mixed bag; diverse rootsy influences thoroughly immersed in a pop cauldron, the syncretic fusion of an active, lively culture. Not everyone likes it: purity of form is rare, and each stylistic success is accompanied by myriad least-common-denominator failures. For the sound of success, listen to this debut American release by Maranhão state's Rita Ribeiro, enlivened by acute song selection, seamless yet adventurous production, and most of all, by Ribeiro's alluring vocals.
"Banho Cheiroso" is a happy shuffle opening with a clarinet line prefiguring Ribeiro's casual, friendly vocal, smooth on the chorus, staccato and hip-hoppy on verses. Her advice: take an aromatic bath - aromatherapy goes Maranhão! In "Há Mulheres," Ribeiro's vocal is propelled into dramatic choruses by dense brass; she sensuously draws out notes, only to cut them short with a shout. The Beatles' "When I'm 64" must have been on Ribeiro's mind in "Pensar em Você," dancehall jazz with vocals sweet but spiced by just a pinch of huskiness.
"Déja Vu" is undoubtedly the poppiest song on the record, but rendered compelling by acoustic twelve-string guitar and Ribeiro's riveting delivery of a narrative melody, affording her the opportunity to flex the power of her lower range. The title track "Pérolas aos Povos, or "Pearls to the People," is dignified reggae, with strong brass and vibes, female chorus, and Ribeiro's vocal at its driving best, Portuguese words for "milk" and "law" forming a central lyrical pun. Ribeiro does well by Jorge Ben's "Vendedor de Bananas," a driving rock cha-cha-cha with soulful brass, a staccato vocal, touches of hip-hop scratch and James Brown funk guitar, a rollicking stylistic fusion. "Mana Chica" is also a revelation, calypso as it might be arranged by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, a paradoxically light-hearted flirting song of 18th Century slaves with dense brass and percussion arrangement, Ribeiro's vocal taking the melody on a sliding, soaring roller-coaster ride. Rita Ribeiro helps us to celebrate the successes of popular music and its pearls for the people. - Jim Foley
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